Dodger Bullpen Makes Fourth Straight Win Too Exciting
I don't know whether this is frightening, uplifting, depressing or hopeful. Here are two sentences Dodger manager Don Mattingly uttered before Tuesday's game against the Giants: "This is the team. Our lineup is getting pretty much at full strength."
While the lineup was good on Thursday, it was the bullpen that was scary. Specifically it was Brandon League.
There the Dodgers were nursing a 6-3 lead in the top of the ninth. Since Kenley Jansen had pitched in three straight games, Mattingly decided to roll the dice with the deposed Brandon League. What remained of the crowd of 47,193 weren't happy and voiced their displeasure.
"Brandon in San Diego, he threw the ball okay there," Mattingly justified. On Friday in San Diego League gave up a run in the seventh inning to the Padres but came back on Sunday facing one batter, getting him out and getting the win.
Yeah. Not a lot of people were buying it as the boos cascaded before League even threw one pitch. You don't have to be Ms. Cleo to predict what would happen. Hunter Pence singled, Brandon Belt doubled scoring Pence and Andres Torres singled scoring Belt. The 6-3 lead turned into a 6-5 lead, and that ended League's night.
Fortunately Mattingly had Paco Rodriguez warming up in the bullpen during Belt's at-bat.
With Torres on first, no outs and a one-run lead, Rodriguez started shaky giving up a single to Brandon Crawford. But he got pinch-hitter Juan Perez to fly out to center and Gregor Blanco to strike out. But Marco Scutaro belted a shot to deep centerfield forcing Matt Kemp to run back to the wall to snag it.
"I was anticipating him driving the ball up the middle," Kemp said. "It surprised me a little bit."
Despite just coming off of the disabled list with a right hamstring strain, Kemp tracked the ball down into his glove and smacked the wall in celebration.
"Game over," Kemp recalled. "Another win."
Mattingly had a different reaction. "It took a year off of my life," he said.
This begged the question. Was there any thought given to Rodriguez starting the ninth? "We've been using him pretty steady," Mattingly said having used him the last two games. "We were trying to stay away from him."
Nevertheless Paco had to be used, and the Dodgers avoided disaster.
Like Mattingly said, for better or for worse this is the team the Dodgers will basically have.
Before the game the Dodgers reactivated Kemp from the disabled list, a place he has stayed since May 30 with a mild strain of his right hamstring. And with the exception of Carl Crawford who remains on the disabled list with a strained hamstring of his own, this is the Dodgers in all of their glory. Kemp is hoping to be a part of that solution.
"I didn't do too well the first month-and-a-half of the season," Kemp admitted. "For me this is a new season, a new Matt."
While he didn't want to talk about his shoulder or his hamstring, Kemp reassured that he was completely healthy. Despite being on the disabled list he was able to start lifting weights, something he was forbidden because of offseason shoulder surgery.
"It's good to get that feel of being strong," Kemp said when asked about the finally being able to lift. "You always want to feel strong out there. You never want to feel like you're not that strong. I'm getting stronger. It's good, you know? My body feels good."
Barring trades and any further injuries, this is the team that will attempt to get the Dodgers off of their track towards the 1992 mark of 99-loss futility.
Maybe this is a good sign.
With the game tied 2-2, the middle of the Dodger order lit up Giants starter Mike Kickham in the sixth inning. After Yasiel Puig led off with a strikeout, Adrian Gonzalez doubled and Hanley Ramirez hit a home run so magnificent it seemed like an illusion. The 442 foot bomb hit off the left field foul pole and into the seats in foul territory, a home run by every rule in the book.
The Dodgers didn't stop there with the 4-2 lead. Kemp and Andre Ethier singled, and Giants manager Bruce Bochy had enough. Kickham proved he didn't need an additional sign on his back.
Tim Federowicz hit a single off of reliever Jake Dunning, and after Nick Punto grounded into a fielder's choice Dunning made a bad pickoff throw to first base allowing Ethier to score.
The Dodgers had the 6-2 lead and actually looked like the team people had envisioned when they got word of the $200 million payroll.
With how the Dodgers have been playing this season, it would be easy to assume the Dodgers would flirt with being perfected upon. After all the Giants were sending out Kickham in only his second big league start after being shelled for four runs in 2 1/3 innings in the Oakland Coliseum on May 28. He is the exact type of pitcher to give the Dodgers fits this season.
I was very very wrong. Federowicz, giving A.J. Ellis a day off behind the plate, led off the bottom of the third inning with a double lined to left field. Perhaps even more inexplicably it was Mark Ellis, not Yasiel Puig, who belted a homer into the left field pavilion to give the Dodgers the 2-0 lead.
The Giants were undeterred. Buster Posey hit a solo homer in the fourth inning off of Dodger starter Stephen Fife. Singles by Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt to lead off the fifth inning spelled further trouble for Fife. The subsequent wild pitch to Andres Torres didn't help things sending the runners to second and third with no outs.
Torres grounded out to score Pence and tie the game. But Fife avoided further damage getting Brandon Crawford to pop up and Kickham to strike out swinging to keep the game tied.
Fife admitted he wasn't pitching his best game. "My fastball command was awful at best," he recalled. Despite that he pitched into the seventh inning and kept the team in the game.
The Dodgers have won four games in a row for the first time this season, and there is a glimmer of hope after a season that's been pretty bleak up to this point. Before we get too excited about things, we should probably see how they fare against a pitcher that has an ERA lower than 15.